Burnyeat Plato Perception

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<p>Plato on the Grammar of Perceiving M. F. Burnyeat The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 26, No. 1. (1976), pp. 29-51.Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8388%281976%292%3A26%3A1%3C29%3APOTGOP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-R The Classical Quarterly is currently published by The Classical Association.</p> <p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/journals/classical.html. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission.</p> <p>The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community take advantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p> <p>http://www.jstor.org Wed Oct 24 06:54:35 2007</p> <p>PLAT0 ON THE GRAMMAR O F PERCEIVINGLet intellectual tubes give thee a glance of things which visive organs reach not. SIR THOMAS BROWNE</p> <p>\'a, h n o ~ p l o l cnorip? op8orkpa c$ b p b p e v roliro ebar 6@8aApodc, i j 61' 03 6pGpev, r a i &amp; arodopev w r a , i j 61' oir ~ K O ~ O J J E V ; 01,;AI. 61' cjv i'rtanra aioOavdpeOa, kboiye ~ O K E (5 , X L j ~ p a r e p6AAov jj oic. ~ ~, SOC. Which reply is the more correct, that eyes are what we see with or that they are what we see through? That ears are what we hear with o r what we hear through? THEAET. I think, Socrates, they are what we perceive things through rather than with. (Theaetetus 184 c)The question contrasts two ways of expressing the role of the sense organ in perception. In one the expression referring to the sense organ is put into the dative case (let us call this the 'with' idiom); the other is a construction with the preposition 61a ('through') governing the genitive case of the word for the sense organ (let us call this the 'through' idiom). The virtue which the dialogue will claim for the 'through' idiom is that it reveals or emphasizes, while the 'with' idiom obscures, the unity of the perceiving consciousness, and it is in part through this contrast of idiom that Plato presents, and we have to understand, his conception of that unity. Our task is to find an interpretation of Plato's grammatical claim that will suit his philosophical purposes: one that will help to give content to the idea of the unity of the perceiving consciousness and thereby get the argument of this section of the dialogue off to a satisfactory start.'</p> <p>The subject being grammar, we naturally turn first to the grammarians.2 They say that Plato uses the 'with' idiom to express a view of eyes and ears as means by which we see and hear, and the 'through' idiom to contrast with this his ownThe problem was first brought to my notice by Bernard Williams, in a lecture on the Theaetetus given in 1964. 1 owe much t o discussion of the dialogue with him since then. The paper was substantially completed, with the help of criticism at meetings in London, Oxford, and Princeton, before the appearance of John McDowell, Plato Thc,aetetrrs (Oxford 1973); it was a pleasure t o find some of the interpretations I had argued for in his commentary, and at appropriate intervals I have noted significant points of agreement and disagreement. A penultimate draft benefited from discussion at the 'B Club' in Cambridge. I am also indcbtcd to John Cooper's fine essay, 'Plato on Sense-Perception and Knowledge: ' l ' h ~ ~ ~ t c t ~ ~ t ~ r s Phvo~~esrs (1970) 184-186', 15 -his compelling critique of the interpretations of Cornford and Cherniss I propose</p> <p>'</p> <p>to take as read-and t o an unpublished paper by Michael Frede, 'Some Observations on Remarks about Perception in Plato's Later Dialogues', presented at the Princeton Colloquium in 1973. Finally, to my tenure of a Radcliffe Fellowship I owe the leisure which enabled me t o prepare the final version; I would like t o acknowledge the generosity of the Radcliffe Trustees and of University College London, who together made it possible for me t o enjoy the Fellowship. 1 use this collective designation t o refer t o the following: Kiihner-Gerth, Ausfiihrliche Grammatik der gn'echischen Sprache4 (Hanover 1955), S. 434; Schwyzer-Debrunner, (;riechische Crammatik ii (Munich 1950), 450-2; Jean Humbert, Syntaxe Grecque2 (Paris 1954), # 513.</p> <p>30</p> <p>M. F . BURNYEAT</p> <p>view that the sense organs are intermediaries between us and the world we perceive; to which two authorities add the qualification that the 'through' idiom as it is used here is an application o r extension of the basic spatial meaning of the preposition The importance of this qualification will become clear in due course. I t is necessary t o take issue with the grammarians' elucidation of the 'with' idiom in terms of means before we can understand the 'through' idiom and the contrast it is intended to bring to our notice. T o begin, then, with the 'with' idiom, the language Plato wants t o reject. What he is rejecting is represented graphically by the wooden horse model in 184 d , where Socrates endorses Theaetetus' preference for the 'thrpugh' idiom by saying:You are right, my lad. It is a strange state of affairs indeed if a number of senses4 are ensconced in us, as though we were wooden horses, and they do not all converge to a single kind of thing,' the soul or whatever it should be called, with which we perceive through the senses as equipment [organa] such things as are perceptible.</p> <p>In these lines the 'with' idiom is associated with the strange, not to say frightening,' thought that there are a number of senses in us or in our bodies only in the same sort of way as there were a number of Greek warriors lurking in the Trojan horse. As a scholiast remarks8 -and I am not aware of any modern commentator who has put the point as forcibly-the message of the model is that the horse is insensate; the power of perception belongs exclusively to the warriors within. The warriors, that is to say the senses, carry o n their perceptual activity in such a way that neither the horse itself nor any part of it can be credited with the perceiving that takes place inside its hulk. The first point to notice is how reminiscent this is of the way perception had</p> <p>Schwyzer-Debrunner and tlumbert. By contrast, Kuhner-Gerth puts our case under the heading ( ? group of senses) 'causal and figurative' in contra-distinction to the spatial uses of 61a; cp. also Goodwin, A Greek Grammar2 (London 1894), 8 1206. Elsewhere, Kiihner-Gerth writes of the 'through' idiom as giving more definite expression t o the relation of means than the 'with' idiom, though this is said without reference to the Plato example ( B 425, p. 436). SO F. M. Cornford, Pluto's T h e o r y o f Knowledge (London 1935), 103, translates aioO{oer~at 184 d 2, as against Lewis Campbell's 'perceptions' in T h e Theaetetus o f Plato2 (Oxford 1883), 158, and Auguste Dies' 'sensations' in the Bude edition of the dialogue (Paris 1924), 220; Cooper, op. cit., 127, also reads 'sensations' in d 2, but McDowell, op. cit., 66, has 'senses'. Cornford is right because aioefioeic is the antecedent of T O L ~ T W Voiov 6pyavwv at 184 d 4 and in the sequel it is senses, not perceptions or sensations, that are treated as b'ppyava and said t o be that through which we perceive. ,uiav riva i6Pav is used quite non-</p> <p>committally (Campbell, ad loc.: 'in the concrete vernacular sense'), as at 203 c 5-6, where it expresses the notion that a syllable is a unitary kind of thing arising from the combination of its letters. This term is variously translated 'instruments', 'implements', or 'tools', but all these, I think, are rather too concrete in their associations. I have preferred the less specific term 'equipment' as being more in keeping with the fact that Plato does not specify any particular kind or type of organa as what he has in mind. There are plenty of examples of non-concrete organa, and in a number of cases the word denotes a device for some kind of cognition: Gorgias frag. B l l a , 30 Diels-Kranz, PI. K r p . 518 c, 582 d, Phdr. 250 b, Crat. 388 b c, Soph. 235 b, [PI.] D e j u s t o 373 a, Ar. 7'op. 108 b 32, 163 b 11. ' It would be perfectly apt, philosophically, for 6etvov (184 d 1) to mean 'terrible' rather than or as much as 'strange' (the standard translation), since the envisaged state of affairs deprives the self of percipience. W. C. Green, Scholia Platonicd (Haverford 1938), 440-1.</p> <p>P L A T 0 ON T H E GRAMMAR O F PERCEIVING</p> <p>31</p> <p>been treated earlier in the dialogue.9 In the Heraclitean world elaborated o u t of Theaetetus' definition of knowledge as perception what we normally think of as the perceiving subject was deprived of all unity, synchronic as well as diachronic. In that world not only is there no identity through time, since the perceiver we call Socrates at one moment is distinct from the perceiver we call Socrates at any other moment (156 a-157 c, 158 e ff, 166 b), but even of two perceptions occurring at the same time it cannot really b e said that they belong t o t h e same perceiver. If Socrates takes a drink of wine with his eye on the contents of his cup, the Heraclitean account of this will ascribe the seeing something white to an eye and the tasting something sweet to a tongue ( I 5 6 de, 159 cd), where eye and tongue are distinct perceiving things and no less distinct are the white and the sweet things they respectively perceive. We may indeed speak of Socrates tasting sweet wine, but only on the understanding that this Socrates cannot be the subject, just as the wine cannot be the object, of any other perception (159 e-160 b). There is no more t o this Socrates than his tasting tongue,'' and no more t o that than is given by the statement that it is tasting this sweet wine now; so if, similarly, Socrates is to be identified with his eye when he sees something white, it follows that the Socrates who tastes something sweet at a certain moment is distinct from the Socrates who sees something white at that moment. A parenthesis may be of value here to anyone who finds it hard to stomach the tasting tongues and seeing eyes in which Heraclitean theory deals. In The Problems of Philosophy Russell arguesWhen I look at my table and see a certain brown colour, what is quite certain at once is not 'I am seeing a brown colour', but rather, 'a brown colour is being seen'. This of course involves something (or somebody) which (or who) sees the brown colour; but it does not of itself involve that more or less permanent penon whom we call '1'. So far as immediate certainty goes, it might be that the something which sees the brown colour is quite momentary, and not the same as the something which has some different experience the next moment."</p> <p>Russell's something or somebody, which does the seeing when I look at my table but is not necessarily me, is a twentieth-century relative of Plato's seeing eye, born of a similar quest for certainty, and when one thinks it through, not much less grotesque. Plato is more radical than Russell, however, in that his reduced view of the perceiving subject does not even allow for a number of perceptions to be gathered together into a unitary mind by some form of logical construction. When at 157 b c Plato sketches a conception of things like men and stones as collections (aBpoiupara) of perceptions o r appearances, he does so not, as some commen-</p> <p>The connection has indeed been noticed by a number of scholars, but they have disagreed as to its significance and none, I think, has fully exploited it in their interpretation of the passage that concerns us. Cf. e.g. Cornford, op. cit., 105 (criticized below), Kenneth M. Sayre, Plato's Analytic Method (Chicago-London 1969), 95 ff., Cooper, op. cit., 127. The connection was noticed in ancient times too, for in Diogenes Laertius' Life o f Protagoras we read that Protagoras</p> <p>'held the soul to be nothing over and above the senses [or: perceptions], as Plato says in the Theaetetus' (D.L. 9.51). Since Plato does not in so many words ascribe this view to Protagoras, someone has done some (intelligent) interpretation. lo It is revealing, the way 159 de switches indifferently from tongue to Socrates as the subject of perception. " Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford 1 9 1 2 ) , 1 9 ; cf. 51. </p> <p>32</p> <p>M. F . BURNYEAT</p> <p>tators seem t o think,12 t o incorporate it into the Heraclitean theory-thereby anticipating in some measure Berkeley, Hume, or Russell-but in order to rule that collections are no more immune from flux and relativity than anything else. It is people in general who say of such collections, 'This is a man, that is a stone' (or perhaps, 'I am a man, that is a stone'), not the theorists who would banish being from our speech.13 They confine themselves t o saying that one should speak in the same way about collections as about individual items (157 b 8-9), viz. in the Heraclitean-Protagorean vocabulary of their theory. They will not countenance the notion that a man o r a stone is anything in its own right even when considered as a collection of perceptions o r appearances, and this must apply whether we want t o make Socrates a series of perceptions occurring at different times and places o r try to equate him with what Russell calls a 'perspective', the sum of perceptions of various objects occurring at a particular place at a given time.14 In either case all we find is those momentary seeing eyes and tasting tongues and other fleeting organs of sense, each of them individuated wholly in relation t o the equally transient object of its perceptual activity (156 e-157 b, 159 e-160 c). The most that is conceded to the ordinary man's view of himself and his world is that collections of perceptions and collections of perceptual qualities may occur (come into being and-pass away) in relation t o one another, where by 'collection' is meant a mere collocation of distinct items whose togetherness is an arbitrary imposition of ordinary language,'' not the constituting of a unified entity such that one could - - . say of an properly . appearance or a perception that it belongs t o that stone or t o this man. The very words 'this' and 'that', and likewise the words I would need to sav...</p>